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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
Wine Blogging: Can It Survive?

By Charles Olken

It is said that there are 3,000 wine blogs wandering around the Internet. All are given away for free. Most of them are worth what you pay for them. Many will never make a nickel for their creators, and that's OK with most of them because they started out blogging for the fun of it. But, there are still hundreds of wine blogs whose authors hope to stay in the winewriting business for a long time. They won't.

It is not that they should not try or that some will not make a go of it. That is how CGCW was born back in the early 1970s when a couple of amateurs with growing wine collections decided to try their hands at reporting on California wine. It worked for us back then, and I am grateful and entirely pleased that my life has worked out the way it did. But, will 3,000 or even 300 new entrants to field have the same good fortune. Some will; most will not.

Steve Heimoff, whose blog is among of my very favorites and is one of the first one I turn to every day because it is so well-written, has addressed this issue of "monetization of the wine blog" today, and it set me to thinking. His essay is far too long to quote here, but I recommend that you have a look at it over at In it, he essentially says that bloggers are going to leave the field if the reading public does not eventually agree to pay for their favorites. They will simply go elsewhere according to the Heimoff thesis.

The Olken thesis is only a little bit different. Those who love what they are doing and don't care about not getting paid for it, or maybe making a pittance based on a few paid advertisements, will stay around. The majority of the "toe-in-the-water" entrants, however, will get tired and go back to their day jobs. Others will undoubtedly take their place, and, in the Olken view, there will always be a large number of enthusiastic amateurs-some of whom will go on to become part of the next generation of pros.

For the currant pros, it is a different kettle of fish. People like Steve Heimoff, Paul Greggutt, Jon Bonne, Eric Asimov, Tom Wark, your CGCW editors will stay around because blogging is part of being relevant in the age of the new media. That certainly is why the CGCW blog came about. The Internet cries out for more information because the cost of creating that information in electronic print is not very high. The cost of finding something to write about is, however, very high, and while it cannot be measured in dollars for wine and press startups, it is measured in years and years of preparation. That is why most of the blogs that get featured in our Tuesday feature, Best of Blogs, whose intent is to recognize and bring you examples of the great writing of the past week, are written not by enthusiastic amateurs but by professionals who have earned their spurs. It is not intentional. It just works out that way.

There are, of course, interesting startups, and their takes on things can sometimes be more insightful than the pros because we sometimes are too close to the trees to see the forest. Joe Roberts, 1WineDude, the folks at Enobytes, Jeff Lefevere at Good Grape and even Brooklyn Wine Guy whose distaste for California wine bothers me but whose writing often talks of falling in love, for an evening at least, with one very good wine are all examples of folks who have turned to winewriting. And there are others.

But, those good folks mentioned above are going to be challenged by their own sense of purpose at some point. They are working very hard to make the leap into the realm of the professionals. In terms of their writing, they are doing just fine. Whether they will be happy in the long run working hard for less than a reasonable reward is the central issue in the Heimoff piece.  He is less optimistic than I am that some folks will stay the course. And I am not very optimistic about their chances of earning a living at blogging, but I foresee the blog continuing to exist for both pros and new entrants to the field.


by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/17/2011 9:02:00 AM

Whenever STEVE! needs to rack up some comment totals he turns to writing about bloggers. Nothing bloggers like more than believing they're important, and so they'll happily chime in on the rare debate on which they are actually informed. This is navel-gazing for humans, but with Poodles we call it something else--licking your own butt.

Of course there will always be wine blogs. Ever try to get a Poodle to stop barking?

I believe I have been quoted as saying wine blogs will be dead in five years. They'll still exist, they'll just be dead, like Robert Parker. Those few that clamber from the muck, like 1WineDoody and Goofy Grape and the oxymoronic Brooklyn Wine Guy, had better do it quickly.

Maybe I will go back to blogging...

There Will Always Be An England
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:2/17/2011 9:48:11 AM

I had this queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach a few minute ago when my inbox reported that someone had commented on my column above. The feeling derived from the thought that only a handful of folks would react this quickly--and I did not expect that it would be STEVE!, which, of course, it was not. You, my dear Jose, would be at the top of that list.

I thought it was pretty cool that Mr. Heimoff compared himself to Shakespeare. As he said, no pay theater, no Shakespeare, and, by absolute logical connection, nobody paying for blogs, eventually no blogs.

Well, of course, Ron, you and I are both right. There will always be blogs because there will always be winelovers who want to talk about wine in more than inane 140-character tweets or only in the comments sections of STEVE! or Vinography or Doc Wine or here.

As for blogs being dead in five years but still existing, well, you must believe in metaphysics. I myself believe in the power of the baloney and the human penchant to keep slicing it no matter how boring it may be. The folks like thee and me, when we blog, may be boring the hell out of other people, but not out of ourselves.

Wine blogs and old wines
by Carl Hennige
Posted on:2/17/2011 11:21:18 AM

I started the Folsom Wine Group wine blog primarily to record in some fashion the older wines that we have enjoyed.  I initially saved the bottles, and then the labels, but that didn't work very well.  Now I have a media to record some of the gems we have enjoyed.

Trees and Forest
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:2/17/2011 11:35:55 AM


This is a great example of the pros sometimes cannot see the trees for the forest.

We talk about blogs as if they were professional or trying to be professional. Your blog is a treat to read because it is trying to be nothing more than a place to chat about wines you have tasted in your group.

It is an outstanding use of the medium, and chances are that the very large number of the estimated 3,000 wine blogs are more like yours than like Heimoff or CGCW.

Good on 'ya, as the Aussies would say.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/17/2011 1:09:38 PM

Well, well. Until today, I had neither read nor heard of the phenomenon called blogging. Thank you for the informatuon, Charlie.

Now, what do I do with it? And who's STEVE!?

Seriously, until bloggers stop trying to defend their turf, bloggin will remain the underachiever of the universe. It's those who keep screaming for attention that often point out how little that have to say or offer.

I prefer the blogger that goes quietly along, keystroking his way through life. I would prefer that--it describes my blogging...for only about four years now. Why the hell do I continue? I've no idea, but I am beginning to feel like the hose says: still in existence, but dead.

No, Hose, don't bother to return. I've discovered that many bloggers don't even have a sense of humor, and that, to me, is the sign of low intelligence, about on par with my real-life standard poodle (who is a pest when he starts to barking).

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/17/2011 1:10:40 PM little THEY have to say or offer--among the other typos to fix in thta last comment.

Blogs Redux
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/17/2011 4:20:15 PM


I actually enjoyed my days blogging, as I'm sure you do now. Met a lot of people unexpectedly as a result, for which I am eternally grateful. I have a soft spot for bloggers. I like to think of them like those special needs kids working at McDonald's, relentlessly and cheerfully plugging away at a job they think the world finds important. One has to admire their spirit.

I'm always tempted to return to HoseMaster because it was challenging, and I keep thinking maybe there are other cool people out there I could meet as a result. My voice, I think, was unique, and making people laugh is always rewarding. But I found I couldn't stay out of the sandbox long enough to lead my real life, and that too many of the others playing in the sandbox were self-righteous, arrogant, sanctimonious blowhards. Plus, you dig around in a sandbox long enough and eventually you find your hands covered in what Poodles inevitabldy do in sandboxes.

The Way of All Flesh
by Ken Payton
Posted on:2/17/2011 4:45:58 PM

It is funny how the blogging world works. My understanding is that Joe Roberts will write in some capacity for a Portuguese wine concern, and be paid for it. This is in addition to ad revenue from any number of companies pulsing on his site. And the websites of many other wine bloggers show clear signs of increasing compensation. All the on-the-job training seems to be paying off for those who persist in this strange game!

But I never saw my blog as a money-making enterprise, despite the .com address. Having turned away many companies requesting space, I've always understood my work to be a collective explore of varied wine-related topics. As may be generally known, I don't write about wines, but about the science and culture of wine. I also share space with a writer who is only in it for the personal pleasure it provides.

In my case, writing about wine matters has led me down quite unanticipated paths; my Portuguese wine documentary, for example. And I have two others in the works. Therefore, I don't see blogging as an end in itself. I suppose it finally becomes a question of how to seize or to create opportunities.

Money may come one day. (I haven't made a penny yet.) But in the final analysis, for me it is the rich creative opportunities that prove reward enough. That and the chance to meet so many extraordinary farmers, scientists, academics, and yes, wine writers.


What's love got to do with it?
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/17/2011 5:24:59 PM


Having been a writer for more years than I care to recount, I view blogging as an extension of that profession. Unfortunately, that may be a gross misunderstanding on my part, as most of what passes for writing on blogs keeps on coming with little indication that the writers are learning much about the craft--or maybe they simply haven't got it in them.

Still, thta is small potatoes. My main concern about blogging, and about the Internet in general, is lack of credentials and accountability form any Joe or Jane able to self-proclaim. The devaluation is not only in the value of content but in the value of the source of that content.

Far be it from me to deny anyone the need to earn a living, yet, I am particularly not in love with the idea that someone who reviews wine can also be paid to hawk it. There's earning a living and there's crossing either an ethical or a credibility line.

The trouble with blogging--from my myopic, old school thinking (that's sarcasm)--is that ethics and credibility are as much a commodity as wine, and that, to me, just ain't right. In fact, more than once, when I called a blogger on either an ethics or credibility item, I've been told that I am unable to face the changing world. In that regard, I say yes, I am, and damned proud of it, too; even though I know it's likely a losing battle.


Love's got everything to do with it
by Ken Payton
Posted on:2/17/2011 6:10:02 PM

Hi Thomas,

My remarks were more about diversity of purpose and intent in the wine blogging community.  But about craft, I suppose it's a wait-and-see sort of thing. It is not too great a stretch of the imagination to think that work you produced when you initially began years ago may occasionally make you wince. I don't know, of course. But equally unclear is whether the time frame of a blogger's first few years gives a critical reader all the information they need know to render an honest judgement about a blogger's future performance. The harsh, sometimes excoriating criticism of the amorphous, youthful wine blogging community has always baffled me.

I understand your second argument very well. Garbage in, garbage out. No doubt. But I know many bloggers who have since beginning their sites achieved advanced wine-related degrees. A good friend will learn in June whether she is to become an MW. Others have taken on winemaking responsibilities. Or graduated with freshly minted MBAs. This is the more common pattern I see. To continue to insist that wine blogging is generally static and filled with people lacking all intellectual curiosity and ambition, is simply at odds with the reality. And it is this that makes the wine blogger pro/con discussion so unproductive, in my view.

Your last point about being rebuffed by the blogger who said the world is changing, I completely agree with your outrage. Yet I can't help but thinking your very 'intervention' may ultimately pay dividends; for that blogger's methods and choices have now been put on notice. A conscience can be won over, I believe.

Wine Blogging
by Mike Dunne
Posted on:2/17/2011 6:20:10 PM

I'm coming up on a deadline and need some help. The nut graf of the piece is that 10 people read and comment on wine blogs. So far the list includes Charles Olken, Steve Heimoff, Ron Washam, Samantha Dugan and Thomas Pellechia. Steve Mirassou didn't make the cut because he seems to have disappeared lately. Who am I missing? Hurry, please, that deadline draws near.

by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/17/2011 6:48:39 PM

You left yourself out Mike.

And Joe Roberts, and ColoradoWineBoy and everyone else with a blog fishing for hits. Or too much time on his hands.

Most notably, you forgot the ubiquitous coward Anonymous.

Me, I'm just the idiot that genius Ken Payton doesn't think is funny.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:2/17/2011 6:51:49 PM

I started blogging to meet boys....

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/17/2011 8:32:49 PM

Mike, depends on how much breadth you are looking for. Stephen Mirassou has shown up lately in a few places. Morton (not a real identity) is always on STEVE! and occasionally on Tom Wark. Steve Heimoff rarely comments anywhere, and when he does it is in one-liners.

Jo Diaz often wanders around. Larry Shaffer. Sherman.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/17/2011 8:32:49 PM

Mike, depends on how much breadth you are looking for. Stephen Mirassou has shown up lately in a few places. Morton (not a real identity) is always on STEVE! and occasionally on Tom Wark. Steve Heimoff rarely comments anywhere, and when he does it is in one-liners.

Jo Diaz often wanders around. Larry Shaffer. Sherman.

No Subject
by Anonymous
Posted on:2/17/2011 8:33:25 PM

Now how the heck did that happen? Let's try again.

How Does This Thing Work
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/17/2011 8:34:56 PM

First two posts when one was sent. Then my name does not appear.

Senior moment or computer glitch. I am betting on the former.

It doesn't
by Christian Miller
Posted on:2/17/2011 9:08:30 PM

"Senior moment or computer glitch"  Who can tell, out here in the webosphere, the great leveler? Just as you can't tell anymore whether those people babbling on the street are working on a venture capital deal, dictating a memo, or talking to their inner demons.

do not be fooled
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/18/2011 5:29:29 AM

Have any of you ever met me in person?

How do you know whether or not I actually exist?

Mike, point taken. I'll shut up now ;)

to Ken
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/18/2011 5:33:27 AM

But one last word to Ken:


I still cringe after reading some of what I've written. The trick, however, is to be able to recognize when it's good and when it's bad, especially when it's your own.

Journalism RIP
by Stuart George
Posted on:2/18/2011 7:55:59 AM

I believe that wine blogs have all but killed the profession of wine writing.

The 21st century zeitgeist is for vox populi—blogs, chatrooms, forums and so on. The pro—which is to say somebody who is trying to earn a living from writing about wine—has been emasculated by the Internet. 

I hope that people will continue to respect professionalism and that professional wine writers are held accountable to much higher standards than most bloggers. 

Journalism RIP?
by Mike Dunne
Posted on:2/18/2011 8:08:41 AM

Wine blogging isn't killing wine journalism. Intelligent and provocative wine journalism is still out there, but it takes some searching to find it. Quick-hit and risk-adverse editors are as responsible for wine journalism's low standing today more than blogs. Then there's the 100-point scale, which got people to avoid commentary. I bet even Robert Parker rues the day he conceived of the point system, now that he recognizes that it steals from his own narratives.

by Colorado Wine Press
Posted on:2/18/2011 8:47:47 AM

Ron, I wouldn't count me in. But thanks for thinking of me!

I think the value of blogs, be they well written or utter crap (I am willing to bet which category most of you think I fall in) is that they present a plethora of ideas which lead to discussions such as this one, and those on Joe's and Steve's sites. Was wine openly discussed so much 10 years ago? No. Are blogs the primary reason for this? Probably not, but they are at least a contributing factor to this increased awareness and dialogue, whether it be amongst 10 people or 10,000,000.

On Blogging
by Karen Ulrich
Posted on:2/18/2011 9:03:18 AM

While I agree that there's a glut to wade through before making it past the sand churning waves--there are a handful of wine bloggers who think before they write...who approach the topic of wine with a writer's voice.

I started my blog--  --over two and a half years ago, earned WSET certifications, and--as a writer first-- hoped to bring a literary voice to wine.  And while the blog hasn't generated a direct dime, it has led to opportunities as a writer.  It has paved the way to a community in the city, and provided me with a weekly (creative) outlet.

Will the genre die in a few years?  Who can say.  

As a writer, I am grateful for the opportunity to hit "publish" on a weekly basis, without having to crash past the gatekeepers.

What Ron said
by EVO
Posted on:2/18/2011 9:43:57 AM

I echo Ron's first comment. Need a comment boost, make the subject wine bloggers.

Add me to the occaisonal drive-by commenter.


by Saamantha Dugan
Posted on:2/18/2011 10:16:46 AM

Think I have to agree with Mike a bit here and some of the blame for the lack of interesting content has to be laid upon the shoulders of editors and publishers...have you read some of the utter garbage that is written? Need I re-point you to the post about Food & Wine magazine? There is an awful lot of shit out there and I think far too many people are giving us bloggers far too much credit, we haven't hurt the print media....they hurt themselves.

I"m Not Dead Yet
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:2/18/2011 10:36:13 AM

To quote Monty Python (see Holy Grail/Spamalot)

Blogging is nothing more than people talking about wine. Before the Internet, that talk took place in the Letter to The Editor sections of the print journals. Some of those conversations would go on for months.

The Internet created new avenues on Bulletin Boards, chat groups and now in blogs. And the beauty of the blogs is that they allow everyone to participate.

There has always been writing that has fallen short of professional standards the way we are using that term in this conversation. There is more today because there is more writing, and because so much of the writing is unedited.

Blogs will come and go. Such has always been the nature of volunteer efforts. Some are better than others. Some are trying to be professional and getting there. Others will try and fail.

But this medium is far from dead, and even if some of the better blogs disappear because they do not generate the kind of financial support that their creators want, there will be plenty of others to take their places.

Perhaps I should have written, "WE are not dead yet".

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/18/2011 11:33:49 AM

zzzzz....'sall I can say anymore...zzzzz.

Darwin, Toffler
by Sherman
Posted on:2/18/2011 11:41:19 AM

Alvin Toffler posited that there were "waves" of human development, such as the change of hunter/gatherer societies to agriculture (First Wave); the industrial revolution and the move from the country to the city (Second Wave); and whatever wave we've been riding for the last 4 decades ("creative destruction" as our world evolves around us) is the Third Wave.


It's rather like Darwin and his thoughts about evolution -- it's rather a messy process when we're in the middle of it, and rather difficult to make out any salient points due to a lack of perspective. It's only with time that we can see where we've come from where we've been.


Thus the on-going evolution of journalism -- gatekeepers (editors & publishers with a stakeholder position) used to insure that the writers would adhere to some sort of standards (as well as journalism schools) in order to earn the paychecks. Without the gatekeepers and the paychecks, as well as the ease of entry into the world of blogging, we have experienced an explosion of bloggers (rather like the Cambrian Explosion) and will experience the continued evolution of wine writing. Whether we have a K/T extinction event or evolve into something else -- well, that will take time and the jury is still out.


The jury in this case is the marketplace and it votes with dollars -- both for the wine it consumes and the information (content) that it feeds on, as well. I think we have a few epochs ahead of us -- 

Standing in the Aisle
by MacDaddy Marc
Posted on:2/18/2011 2:57:28 PM

 As everyone probably already knew my technical skills are somewhat suspect as you can see from my first attempt at posting on this site.
For the many years I stood behind a stove or worked the pass at the twenty some restaurants I opened in my career, my swagger included being able to weigh in intelligently with anyone in the front of the house on what wines would be on our lists. When my cooking career took a hiatus for physical reasons; I could usually be found daily at supermarkets and wine retailers giving unsolicited advice as people reached for their purchases.  I actually wound up with my first restaurant consulting job by doing just that.  An owner of a property observed my antics and found the folly worthy of finding out why I would volunteer my opinion without compensation. I do not care how much money you have I hate to see anyone waste theirs. With one exception to that rule and that is if I think you might learn something that you may not otherwise comprehend. Wine buyers are an adventuresome lot—we will stand in a shop looking at sometimes thousands of choices and without hesitation make a selection, usually saying to ourselves  “well I haven’t heard anything bad about this one”. It was this scenario that prompted Pamalicious and myself to enter the arena of offering our opinion about wines. We never considered the possibility of compensation beyond maybe waiving tasting fees and the other miniscule perks that are sometimes offered. That and we got tired of pasting labels into books and boring our friends to death with our discoveries.  The mention of our website in your article will probably fuel my persistence for at least another decade if I am around that long and for my partner this stage is only the beginning.  Thanks for the mention now our readers can feel the time spent ingesting our accounts of the food and wine we favor may not be the biggest waste of their time on the internet after all.

Aaron Spelling
by Virtuallynothing
Posted on:2/21/2011 4:14:17 PM

"For the currant pros", I bored by the Bordelaise bias.  And the fact the spell check won't check the wrong word if it is spelled correctly.  Editors do.  Bloggers don't.  Citizen Journalism - Citizen Surgery.  Bloggers can remove their own appendix.

At least Charlie, you had the Connoisseur's Guide in print in the '70s/'80s and gave new meaning to "Three Puffs".

Thank you, Mr. Olken. 

In this new world, however, there are still only 24 hours in one rotation.  It's not a question of space, it's a question of time.  Where's Einstein when you need him?

Wine blogs survival
by Sippingsister
Posted on:2/21/2011 6:52:47 PM

I think blogs will be the tree falling in the forest. And it may not take 10 years -- see this from nytimes

It Will Survive
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:2/21/2011 7:13:49 PM

Thanks for the link. It was incredibly revealing although not nearly so downbeat as Sippingsister finds it.

Apparently, those under 30 and those that simply want to have a social moment are happier with Facebook and Twitter but blogging as part of jounarlism seems to have held its own.

Remember this Millenials. Someday you will be over 30, and then over 40.

I Will Survive
by 1WineDude
Posted on:3/2/2011 5:41:10 PM

When it comes to wine blogging, when I started...

At first I was afraid. I was petrified.

Thinking I could never live without cash by my side.

And then I spent so many night just wondering how Napa Pinot done me wrong...

Then I grew STRONG...

And I learned how to GET ALONG!

And I made a small amount of money and talented people said nice things about me so I stuck around.  Oh, and I am totally obsessed with wine and writing and I can't stop myself anyway (see: HMW's wise comments above about the poodle barking).



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